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TRAVEL JOURNAL INDEX > "Watch for the water mocasins on the left..."

New Orleans   05/20/06 (Day 25)
“Watch for the water moccasins on the left….”

And a change of scenery is what we get in the Barataria Preserve within the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve less than an hour’s drive outside New Orleans where we wander through the swampland along the Preserve’s extremely well kept walkway (part boardwalk, part asphalt, you can do it in sandals).

Almost immediately we see something that looks like a cross between a raccoon and a fox scurry through the shallow water and undergrowth. A bit further along we see why the bulletin board in the visitor’s center said “Watch for alligators in the canal!” Right below us is a baby gator. So cute at 6 inches long! It lazes in the water in a pool of sunlight until it seems to sense us watching. Or maybe the voracious neutria noisily gnawing away on a tree on the other shore disturbed it. Whatever. The little bugger disappears.

Then we begin to hear the cutest little chirps and splashes. Turn around, and there are three of the small fry gators whipping their tails madly as they swim toward each other for some sort of pow wow. Wow.

But wait!

With more trail spooling out ahead of use we carry on and soon stumble upon the biggest King Fisher bird we’ve ever seen (more than a foot tall) and it’s quite the poser as it stands motionless in the shallows along the bank eyeing the water for any movement that might mean dinner. When we pass by him again on our way out more than 30 minutes later he has still not moved a muscle.

Then we spot prize quarry: a 4’ gator swishing his/her (who can tell the difference?) way down the canal. It’s moving so slowly and peacefully that, for just a minute, we forget about that jogger in Florida who has just been found in pieces in a gator’s tummy.

Then a ranger passes us doing his nightly sweep. Closing time. On the bridge at the end of the trail he notes how clear the evening is and points out a building straight down the canal in the distance. It’s the Shell headquarters in downtown New Orleans, eight miles away as the crow flies. It feels good to know you don’t have to travel that far to be in a different world.

As we head back out to our truck a group of guys passes us on their way in. “Watch out for the water moccasins on the left,” one warns over his shoulder. As we proceed, eyes glued to the ground, we wonder if he means HIS left our OUR left. Then we wonder what the heck a water moccasin (one of the deadliest snakes ever invented) looks like. Still wondering, so if you know .

That night, famished from our gator sightings and brush with certain water moccasin death, we eat the usual (fried fish and/or fried oysters) at Boutte’s Seafood. Our 60-something waitress is wearing pink fluffy slippers. It’s delicious.

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